Lily Gladstone as Mollie Kyle Burkhart in Killers of the Flower Moon.
Spoiler warning: This article contains details from Killers of the Flower Moon.
Lily Gladstone cemented her transformation into Mollie Kyle Burkhart the first time she dressed head-to-toe for the role.
“She just became Mollie in that fitting,” says Jacqueline West, costume designer for Martin Scorcese’s Killer of the Flower Moon. “[Lily] said the same thing. She's a very incredible actress, very method. And putting on those clothes, she wanted to take them home and wear them, and we let her so she could really get under Mollie's skin.”
Based on a true story chronicled in the book of the same name by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon scopes in on the ghastly murders in 1920s Oklahoma of members of the Osage Nation, who had become rich upon the discovery of oil on their tribal lands. Gladstone stars as Mollie, a member of one of the oil-rich families who marries Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart. Over the course of three hours and 26 minutes, Mollie experiences unspeakable pain, betrayal and grief.
Building a wardrobe for the film was a massive undertaking. It was all stored in “an enormous warehouse with acres of ‘20s clothing,” West describes. Ensembles for the likes of cowboys, guardians, doctors and other background people were pulled from costume houses. To dress the film’s Osage characters, West followed the guidance of lead Osage costume consultant Julie O’Keefe.
“The first day that I walked into Jacquie’s studio, I didn't know what to expect because I've never been in this industry before,” reflects O’Keefe. “I saw on these very large floor-to-ceiling storyboards the way she had organized in this time period, men and women in different types of dress because there were so many from traditional Osage to a modern Osage with a blanket, and she really had it mapped out so that I understood where she was coming from on her level of authenticity. And I knew right then that we were really going to be able to work well together.”
A collaborative undertaking, the duo was supported by both West’s design team and local Osage people who assisted as artisans and factual resources. A close look at Mollie, in particular, reveals their expert craftsmanship and artistry. Below, O’Keefe and West unpack Lily Gladstone’s wardrobe.
“One of her sisters referred to the blanket as a target. For Mollie, it's armor,” says West. “It's her power suit. When she goes in and deals with that ridiculous guardian of hers that has no sensitivity, no concept of who he's dealing with, and he's got this powerful, educated, smart, perceptive intuitive woman in front of him.”
“A favorite outfit of mine for Mollie, I think, is when she first gets in the car with Ernest [for the first time] in her blanket,” West notes. “She looks so stately in the backseat. I just love her power over him.”
“The sisters, for me, represented a microcosm,” West explains. “Anna is the modern. That's what we refer to her as. To survive, she's embraced modern dress. She's learned English in the white man’s schools and that's her way she survives. Mollie, you can see her relationship with her mother. She's the one she takes care of. Lizzie Q, her mother, is, as Julie says, fresh off the plains and grew up hunting buffalo… And Mollie really identifies with her mother and with the Osage tradition. That's what she has decided to cling to for her survival as a person, just to keep her soul intact. And you can see her pride in being Osage and she embraces the Osage style. So she's traditional. Then the sisters Minnie and Reta are somewhere in between the two. You notice [it] when they're all sitting and they're talking about Leo being the coyote and after their money.”
She continues, “They're all sitting together on a blanket. It's a beautiful representation of how that was attacked… It tells a lot about who they are, their interior, how much of their tradition they felt safe in embracing and still being able to survive.”
O’Keefe dives into the history of Mollie’s wedding coat: “They're dating back to before the 1800s of things that were traded and [that] filter down in our culture and in our traditional clothing of today. And so [with] the wedding coat, there was a delegation in the 1800s that went to visit Thomas Jefferson, and the way the story goes is that this delegation goes in and they're admiring the military coat that this man has on who is standing next to Jefferson. And so when they get ready to leave—this is like how diplomats would give gifts to each other today—Jefferson turns to this gentleman and says, ‘Take off your coat,’ and gives it to the leader. And so it's a chief that would be receiving that and then there's other counsel that's with him. And so our men historically are very tall, broad, statuesque, and so they didn't fit in these coats because the Europeans were much smaller, so they would give them to their daughters. And so the interesting part about it is is anytime that you would see a bride coming in that would have one of these coats that was an during an arranged marriage, you knew that you were marrying someone who had a chief in their family. That is a very strong status and prominent statement in the community.”
“[Mollie is] a modest person and négligées weren’t really in style yet,” West reveals about Mollie’s nightwear. “In those days in Oklahoma, I did a lot of research on what was available in catalogs, but Mollie was a cut above that. The Osage were rich enough to shop in France. My daughter… lives in the south of France and I sent her the pictures and she found them in markets and in antique stores in Provence because Mollie would have had French lingerie… It seemed modest and kind of angelic. She's, to me, the moral compass of this film.”
“When they go for the delegation is my other [favorite of Mollie’s outfits,]” shares O’Keefe. “And I think it's not just Mollie for that, but it's the entire scene... I've been a part of several delegations that have gone to D.C. We all wear our blankets. I have a ribbon-work blanket that's quite lovely and heavy with ribbon that has visited the White House three times. And so it's really a statement of, ‘We’re coming here to do business with you.’ And you can imagine how intimidating it is for probably 40 people to show up in these blankets and be very serious when they're speaking with you. And I love it when she's speaking with the president and she's saying, ‘Please help us,’ and she's wearing that blanket. And just to me, that speaks authentically to exactly how we would be dressing, and we are very serious if we have that on.”
Killers of the Flower Moon is now in theaters.
Photography by: Courtesy of Apple TV Plus